David Ragan

Photo: Dustin Long

Pit road’s friendliest team has drivers smiling, laughing

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In the final moments before they begin their 400- or 500-mile journey, Cup drivers ease their cars down pit road, passing their pit box and crew, sharing a wave, thumbs up or fist bump as they drive by.

Their team, though, isn’t the only one to wish them well.

The Richard Petty Motorsports pit crew for Bubba Wallace waves at every vehicle — including pace cars and safety trucks — that passes their pit stall before the race begins. They’re the only crew to do so, sharing a bond with drivers before the green flag waves.

“I appreciate it,” said Ty Dillon, who waves back. “I think it’s cool. I look forward to seeing those guys on pit road. Just makes you smile.”

Landon Cassill is another who waves back to the No. 43 pit crew.

“It’s nice to have a smiling face and a wave,” he said.

Former champion Martin Truex Jr. also makes sure to wave at the Petty pit crew members.

“If you don’t wave at them you actually feel bad because they’ll like make sad faces,” Truex said.

Tire carrier James Houk started waving to all the cars a few years ago when he noticed that not every pit crew stood in its stall and saluted its driver as they passed before the start of the race.

If I’m a driver and I’m driving past and I see all these crew members waving at their drivers and I’m just like I didn’t get a wave, I’m going to be sad about it going out on the race track,” Houk said. “That’s why I started waving at them.

“I was just like, ‘Man, they need somebody to at least tell them good luck.’ ”

The rest of the pit crew soon followed. While pit crew members have changed through the years, the tradition remains.

The first few times that you do it, you’re a little bit embarrassed,” said jackman Will Goodnow, who joined the crew after last year’s Coca-Cola 600. “At least I was. Now it’s fun.”

There’s nothing to be embarrassed about for any new members. They’re continuing a tradition that dates back to the team’s namesake. While Richard Petty didn’t wave to his competitors, he’s known as much for signing autographs and spending time with fans as he is for his 200 Cup wins and seven championships. It’s only fitting that this pit crew treats competitors as Petty treats fans.

“I absolutely notice it because I’m probably the only driver that drives down pit lane and has since I’ve started, give everybody a thumbs up,” seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. “For the longest time the only people that waved back was the 43 (crew).”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said that when he sees the Petty pit crew waving: “I always laugh. It’s kind of cool.”

He also waves back.

But understand this isn’t a hi, how you doing gesture. Houk, the ringleader, sparks the enthusiasm with his exaggerated waves and gyrations. His teammates follow.

“We have fun,” fueler Ian Anderson said. “We love what we do.

Up and down pit road, we are part of a traveling circuit. We see the same faces, the same people every single week. So when it comes down to it, we’re all friends and family until that green flag drops. From flag to flag that’s when we compete.”

The same five pit crew members also service the No. 11 car for Kaulig Racing and Justin Haley in the Xfinity Series and wave to the cars before those races.

That’s where Cup rookie Matt Tifft first encountered the pit crew’s waving.

“I thought it was kind of weird,” Tifft said. “I thought it was a joke or something but they obviously always did it. I met some of those guys on the plane because sometimes we share their flight back and they’re all super cool guys.”

Bubba Wallace’s pit crew waves not only to him but to all the cars before a race. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

For as much fun as they have, there is some order to what they do. The five pit crew members line up the same each week. Houk is always first.

“James is the ringleader,” said Rear tire changer Justin Fiedler, who is next after Houk.

Front tire changer Brody Essick is third — he always has his helmet on because that’s part of his pre-race routine. Goodnow is fourth and Anderson is always fifth.

It’s Anderson’s job to count how many drivers wave back at the crew. The record is 28 set earlier this year.

Essick comes up with a number of drivers he thinks will wave and the rest of the crew decides if it will be higher or lower than that total.

For the Monster Energy Open, Essick projected 14 drivers would wave back. The field had 24 cars, two pace cars and two safety trucks. Fourteen drivers waved back to the team.

So, not every driver waves. Sometimes a driver might not do so because he’s fiddling with his radio or focused on his pit stall. For others, they’re just focused.

“I always think they’re being silly,” David Ragan said. “I always think they need to act more mature and get ready to make a pit stop.”

Ragan also recognizes how he prepares for a race is different from others.

“Everybody gets ready for a big event in different ways,” he said. “Some people listen to music. Some people act funny. Some people clam up, don’t say anything. Some drivers stand there and sign autographs, and some drivers stand near the back of the car and don’t say anything.

“For me, I try not to be too goofy before I get ready to go. That way, in case I make a mistake, it doesn’t seem like I didn’t have my focus.”

Reigning champion Joey Logano also isn’t big on waving back.

“Call me a jerk, but I’m not really wishing anyone luck at that point,” he said. “It’s all about going to win.”

One driver who has never waved back to the No. 43 pit crew is Denny Hamlin.

So what’s up with that?

“I’ve seen it, but I don’t wave back or anything,” Hamlin said.

Told that he’s the one driver the No. 43 pit crew hopes will wave back to them some day, Hamlin said: “Maybe I’ll give them a wave.”

The next chance should be this weekend at Pocono Raceway. The cars are lined on pit road before the start. The key for the No. 43 pit crew is to have a pit stall close to pit exit so they can wave to most, if not all of the field.

It was something I always looked forward to that brought down the tension and nerves before a race – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Pit stalls are chosen based on qualifying. Slower cars pick late and have fewer choices. That can mean the team has a pit stall that is behind all the cars that are parked on pit road and the crew doesn’t get to wave. Or, as happened in last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, the field is parked on the front stretch and doesn’t come down pit road.

Essick said that “it’s kind of a bummer” when they don’t get to wave to the field.

At ISM Raceway this year, the team’s pit stall was behind where all the cars were parked, meaning the crew members would not get to wave to the cars as they went by.

No problem. They waved as the drivers walked by to their cars.

The pit crew understands what they do is not for everyone. Still, many wave. They appreciate Johnson’s thumbs up. They note Chase Elliott waves a couple of fingers at them — “Somebody’s waving at you, so wave back,” Elliott said. Houk said Dale Earnhardt Jr. would wave as enthusiastically at them as the crew waved to him.

“It’s in my personality to want to make friends or get along with everyone,” Earnhardt said. “I thought it was our thing. I don’t know those guys personally, but it was something I always looked forward to that brought down the tension and nerves before a race.

“I’m all for everyone getting along. I also appreciate boundaries and going to battle and knowing your enemy. But there is a place in the sport for brotherhood and fellowship. I felt like that’s what was happening in those moments.”

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NASCAR America: Corey LaJoie, David Ragan impress in Coke 600

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At the end of a very long night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a few drivers that don’t normally get talked about had raised a few eyebrows, including Go Fas Racing’s Corey LaJoie.

Thanks to late-race cautions and a chaotic final restart, LaJoie was able to pilot his No. 32 Ford to a 12th-place finish.

It is LaJoie’s best finish on a non-superspeedway track and came in his 70th Cup start.

On NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman discussed his run as well the performances of David Ragan and Chris Buescher.

“That is an incredible day,” Kligerman said of LaJoie’s day. “He’s off to honestly an incredible last few weeks.”

LaJoie finished 11th at Talladega three races prior to the Coke 600.

“We still had 25th-place speed,” LaJoie said Sunday. “Maybe a little bit better at times. But we just put ourselves in the right position and there’s that last restart where you can get up on the wheel and make some stuff happen. … A win is like three wins for us. Anytime we finish 22nd we’re slapping hands and smiling and all that. 12th is like an anomaly. But we’ll take it. I’m just pretty pumped up. This is the best I’ve ever ran at a mile-and-a-half by far. It just goes to show … (Go Fas Racing) believes in me as a driver and we’re making a lot of guys on the other end of the garage pretty pissed when the 32 car drives around them.”

Watch the above video for more.

Martin Truex Jr. holds off Joey Logano in late shootout to win Coca-Cola 600

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It was NASCAR’s longest race of the year, but it wound up being a five-lap shootout won by Martin Truex Jr. that decided Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Truex beat Joey Logano to the finish line of the 600-mile race to earn his third win of the season and 22nd of his Cup career. Truex is tied with teammate Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski for most wins in the first 13 races of the season.

It also was Truex’s second Coca-Cola 600 win since 2016.

MORE: Results, standings after Coca-Cola 600

“What a race,” Truex said. “One hell of a team. We never gave up on it, even when I blew a tire and hit the wall (on Lap 74 of the 400-lap event). Just thanks to (crew chief Cole Pearn) and all the guys.

“When we hit the fence, I thought we were done. I didn’t know how we were going to fix it.”

The winning move came on pit road when Truex stopped for four tires with eight laps to go following Brad Keselowski’s spin near the entrance to pit road. Truex exited second but restarted behind David Ragan (who did not pit) and Ryan Newman (whose team changed only two tires). Truex then made short work of them after the restart to earn his third win in the last five points races.

Truex’s victory also is the eighth win for Joe Gibbs Racing in the 13 points races this season.

“The Coke 600’s a big one, man, you really hate to miss (the win),” Logano said.

Added Kyle Busch, who finished third: “(Truex) was the fastest car, so I’m not sure what they had over us.”

Chase Elliott finished fourth followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson, William Byron and Kevin Harvick.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 3 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Fifth-place finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned his first top five since last fall’s playoff race at Talladega. … Sixth-place finisher Chris Buescher earned his third top 10 of the season and his best finish since coming in fifth at last July’s race at Daytona. … All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished in the top 10 for the first time since Texas in April 2016.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Erik Jones’ day ended after just 22 laps when the right front tire on his Toyota Camry blew, sending him into the wall and out of the race. … All-Star winner Kyle Larson got loose early in Stage 4 and slammed into Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon and then collected Dillon’s younger brother, Ty. “I just got in there, lost grip and slid into Clint and started spinning,” Larson said.

NOTABLE: It was a rough night for three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s four drivers – Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. – as well as JGR affiliated driver Matt DiBenedetto, who all suffered tire issues that put them into the wall. Jones and DiBenedetto were both knocked out of the race early, while Hamlin and Truex were able to be repaired and continued.  … The race lasted 4 hours, 52 minutes and 47 seconds. … Lug nut violations found in post-race inspection were assessed to the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick, No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and No. 22 of Joey Logano. The No. 18 of Kyle Busch was taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Pocono 400, Sunday June 2, 2 p.m. ET, Pocono Raceway

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Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon in multi-car wreck early in final Coke 600 stage

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CONCORD, N.C. – A multi-car wreck occurred on Lap 316 of the Coca-Cola 600 and involved Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Ty Dillon, Ryan Preece and David Ragan.

The wreck unfolded as the field exited Turn 2 shortly after a restart.

Larson spun and Clint Bowyer got into the outside wall. As Larson slid to the inside he collided with Austin Dillon, who was trying to avoid the wreck on the apron.

Larson’s car then came back up the track and Ty Dillon swerved into Preece as he tried to avoid Larson.

Larson and Austin Dillon are out of the race.

Gallery: Coca-Cola 600 patriotic paint schemes

Photos by Daniel McFadin
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With Memorial Day weekend here, many NASCAR teams will be racing patriotic paint schemes in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s a look at the unique schemes that will compete in NASCAR’s longest race.

All photos by Daniel McFadin.

Landon Cassill – No. 00 Chevrolet

Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford

Ryan Newman – No. 6 Ford

Aric Almirola – No. 10 Ford

Ty Dillon – No. 13 Chevrolet

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 17 Ford

Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota

 (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet

Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Ford

 

Michael McDowell – No. 34 Ford

Matt Tifft – No. 36 Ford

David Ragan – No. 36 Ford

Ryan Preece – No. 47 Chevrolet

Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet

Cody Ware – No. 51 Ford

Bayley Currey – No. 52 Ford

BJ McLeod – No. 53 Chevrolet

Alex Bowman – No. 88 Chevrolet

Xfinity Series

Michael Annett – No. 1 Chevrolet

Jefferey Earnhardt – No. 18 Toyota

Ryan Sieg – No. 39 Chevrolet

Mike Harmon – No. 74 Chevrolet